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Billy Graham’s Preacher’s Corner: Whittaker’s showboating is as worthwhile as Hamed’s and Ali’s

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I’m a huge fan of “Prince” Naseem Hamed. We went for our professional licences on the same day, and were on shows together throughout our careers. He’s still a very good friend of mine. 

Muhammad Ali has played a huge part in my life. I’d been watching him since the Olympics in Rome and was the only kid in Salford who wanted him to beat Henry Cooper. I thought he was dead funny and he was my hero. 

Neither was exactly shy and retiring. 

I’m a big believer in showing an opponent respect before the fight, but when you’re actually in the ring with somebody you shouldn’t treat them with any respect whatsoever until the fight’s over. Respecting their ability is one thing, but you’re there to do a job and you do whatever it takes to get it done. The person you’re fighting isn’t your friend – they’re trying to knock your fucking head off. I’d always tell my fighters not to touch gloves during a fight. I’m not particularly a fan of humiliating and belittling an opponent but I understand why it’s done.

If I had no problems with Naz’s showboating and what Ali did to Ernie Terrell, I’m not gonna have any issues with what Ben Whittaker is doing. 

I know exactly why he does it but I think his ring walks and some of the moves he pulls off are cringeworthy. But, if I’m honest, I find it cringeworthy when I see any man dance, whether it’s on TV or in a nightclub – let alone in a boxing ring. I never danced when I was younger. Me and my mate were out one night just after Saturday Night Fever came out and he told me he wished he could dance like John Travolta. I told him to wash his f****** mouth out. It’s just not for me.

I can see through all that bullshit and I can see exactly what Whittaker’s got in his arsenal and he’s got a lot. Fighters like him want people to throw punches at them – they want openings to work with and Whittaker uses his tricks to create them. I take real notice of what he does when he gets those openings. 

He’s tall. He can hit you with straight long shots to the head and body. In fact, he goes to the body hard to both sides. His balance is perfect. When he really goes to work there’s something of Thomas Hearns about him. 

I can’t see any reason to hold Whittaker back. He isn’t gonna change his style now. He used this style as an amateur – it’s working for him as a professional and I think he’ll take risks whoever he’s in with. Twenty-six is the perfect age for him to come off the leash. I’d honestly match him with Dan Azeez.

One more thing – I’d strongly advise Whittaker not to do any pirouettes against the likes of Artur Beterbiev. Any of his other tricks, go for it. He’s quick enough to get away with them.

There are three other British youngsters I’m extremely excited about.

Hamzah Sheeraz was sensational against Liam Williams. 

To throw certain shots takes a lot of nerve. You’re at risk every time you throw a punch so you have to be daring to really commit to some shots. The fighters who believe in their attributes will take those chances and really commit to them. Those who don’t will do it half-heartedly and are more likely to get caught. You’ve gotta be quite bold to go about a job the way Sheeraz did – especially against a fighter like the Welshman. Williams was a world-class fighter who I have a lot of respect for.

I wouldn’t have bet a lot of money on Sheeraz before the fight because it was his first real test but I did fear a bit for Williams.

Sheeraz would have been the type of fighter who would have scared me to death as an opponent. A tall, aggressive counter-puncher who can hit with both hands is a fucking nightmare. Power is all about mechanics and he can really punch to head and body. He’s a predator. 

I do worry about him though. The height and reach that makes him so dangerous could also make him vulnerable. You can’t have everything. But that makes him even more exciting to watch.

Adam Azim is the youngest of the three. He’s only young but I bet he was shaving at 16. He’s a physically mature 21 year old but he’s still a kid. You can’t fault what he’s done so far. It’s very impressive actually. The European title is a prestigious belt and you have to be a good fighter to win it.

He’s tall for a super lightweight and he’s more of a classic boxer. What I like about him is that he throws hurtful shots to the body. He’s exciting. He was obviously a very good amateur but just decided to turn professional young. 

I like Dalton Smith. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a pressure fighter but he’s educated and goes about it cleverly. Personally, I’d like to see that fight next. When you’re a European champion you have to defend it against the best fighters in Europe. You know that when you fight for the title in the first place. I think Adam would beat Dalton but I think it’s the perfect measuring stick at the perfect time. 

They all look like amazing talents but I’m not gonna crown them as world class yet because we live in a world where fighters like Gennady Golovkin and Naoya Inoue exist. A fighter can have all the potential, all the raw ability and all the skill in the world, but it can all go out of the window the first time they come up against somebody who gives it them back.

I wouldn’t be surprised if all those fighters end up mixing with the very top names in the division because they have the talent to do so, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they get beat when they get there. But how exciting is it that Britain has a group of fighters with the potential to do it?

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